The mountainous country Altai expands in the South Siberia, latitude between 48° and 56° North and borders on the highlands of Kuznetskiy Altai, Salair, West Sayany, Tann-Ola and Mongolian Altai. Therefore it is difficult to draw a clear boundary-line. The basins of the rivers Biya, Abacan and the Shashpilskiy ridge are considered to be a boundary between Altai and West Sayany. The Mountain Altai is connected to Mongolian Altai through the Tabyn-Bogdo-Ola mountain-mass and The South Altai, Sayalugem and Chihachev ridges in the South and South-West. The South-West outskirts of Altai reaches the Zaisan lake. The biggest part of the Mountain Altai belongs to Altai Territory and Mountainous Altai Republic, the rest part-to Kazakhstan.
The south part of the South Altai, Sarymskaty and Narymsk ridges expands to the West, Saylugem and Chihacheva - to the East. There is a great number of ridges in this mountainous country. They are South-Chuyskiy, Katunskiy, Holzunskiy as well as Ivanovskiy, Ulbinskiy and Ubinskiy ridges, which are the biggest in Altai. Beluha, the highest mountain of Siberia (4506 meters), is also situated here. Another brunch of the ridges-North-Chuyskiy, Terectinskiy, Baschelakskiy - expands to the North. The Cherginskiy and Anuyskiy ridges descend from the Terectinskiy and Seminskiy ridges to the North. The third branch of ridges, formed of Kurayskiy, Aygulakskiy and Anuyskiy ridges, expand almost meridionally. The main parts of Altai are the Chulyshmanskiy upland region and the Shapshalskiy ridge. The north-west slops are steep, south-west and south ones are gently sloping.
Lots of rivers with deep valleys and steep slops flow among ridges. The biggest of them are Bashkausaand Chulyshman, which flow from the Telechki river Biya; the tributaries of the Ob river: Chuya, Argut, Koksu as well as Katun, Charysh, Auy and Peschanaya , Buchtarma-one of the river-heads of the Irtysh river. All the Altai rivers belong to the altai-type rivers, they are supplied with the water of the melted snow and rains. There is a great number of lakes, more than 6 thousand. Many of them, for example Telechkiy, Markakol, are situated in hollows of tectonic stock. The most beautiful and picturesque Telechkiy lake is well known for its steep woody and sometimes rocky banks. The biggest lake called Markakol in Altai also famous for its wonderful banks and rich fauna and flora.
The climate of Mountain Altai is cooler and wetter than in the neighbouring West-Siberia, it becomes cold and wet in highlands, though sunny days here are much more than in Yalta, Batumi, Sukhumi, Sochi.
The situation in the middle part of the continent, different types of relief are the main reason of the difference of climatic conditions and its contrast. The typical features of the northern part are dry climate, warm summer and cool unsnowy winter. The southern (mountainous) part is rather damp, summer is warm, winter is cold and snowy. The east part of Altai is Chuyskaya steppe, the average temperature in January is about -32° C, maximum one is -62° C. There is a temperature between the temperatures in mountains and hollows. The temperature in the mountains is warmer, summer is hot and dry. There is a big quantity of precipitation in the north-west Altai, namely 700-1000 mm per year, in the west area of Mountain Altai - 1500 mm, in highlands of the Katun ridge-about 2000 mm. The most quantity of precipitation falls in summer and autumn, and also in winter in west Altai. The cover of snow here reaches 2 or 3 meters. Winter in the west area is not snowy. At a height of 2000-2500 meters there is a permafrost.
In summer Mountain Altai is under the influence of arctic aerial masses, which become warmer in West Siberia. They cause rainy and chilly weather in the mountains. The weather in highlands in summer is rainy as well, there are many hazy days, snowfalls. The most quantity of rain falls in the mountains in the first ten-day period of August. In the middle of the third ten-day period of August snow doesnt melt at the altitude of 2600 meters or so and then it comes a favourable weather here for a week or two. Generally speaking, a rapid changes of hazy and damp into dry and warm weather are common things in September and October. Winter comes in November.
When planning summer routes, you shouldnt forget, that July is the warmest and rainiest month of September. Favourable days of this month are less then a half. The most beautiful time for mountaineering is August and September, in spite of the weather being worse in the passes and gorges than in July. As a rule precipitation falls in the afternoon, that is why the first half of a day is the most favourable time for mountaineering.
In the west area highlands are snow-capped at the height of 300 meters, in the central part of Altai - 2500-3000 meters and in the south slopes of ridges - 2600-3300 meters. In the east snow covers mountains at the height of 3100-3500 meters (Chihachev ridge).
There are more than 1500 glaciers known in highlands of Altai. Frozen area is more than 900 square kilometers. The biggest glaciers are situated in valleys, there length reaches 8 or 11 kilometers.
The vegetation is various. There is a belt of mountaineering mountainous steppes at the height of 800-1500 meters, and mountainous taiga - 1200-2400 meters. Alpine glasslands expand at the height of 500-3000 meters, and then it comes subnival and nival zones. Boundaries of these belts are not clear.
Lack of forests, low grass and bushes are typical for mountainous steppe vegetation. Wormwood, cereals grow on the even lots, as in Karayskaya steppe, for example. As a whole steppe has rather cheerless view of yellow-gray colors, and on the contrary, the vegetation is rich near banks of the rivers and lakes.
Dark green belt of forest appear at the boundary of steppes and foothills. There are not so many deciduous forests in Mountain Altai. Mountain taiga consists of larches, Siberian pines, pine-trees, fir-trees and silver firs. Deciduous taiga expands at the height till 2000 meters. It is especially beautiful in spring, when larches are coming out; and in autumn, when the sun is shining. As for pines, it grows in the upper part of the forests. As a rule their branches make fantastic forms. Fir trees and silver firs grow mainly on the north slops of the Katun ridge, pines and larches are on the south.
There are many different bushes: dog-rose, hawthorn, berbery, currents, meadow-sweet and others. You can gather plenty of berries, such as bilberries, cowberries, raspberries, strawberries and mushrooms.
Mountain tundra expands between taiga and alpine glasslands. It is brushwood of short bushes such as polar birch and different short willows. The polar birch (in local language it is called as «chira» or «ernic») grows rather densely, it is not more than 40 or 60 cm in height with beautiful low trunks and small, rough leaves. Therefore it is difficult to go through these brushwoods.
Alpine and subalpine glasslands expand on the irrigated slops or watered flat valleys and ridges. There are many beautiful flowers of different bright colors such as forget-me-not, violet, primrose and lots of others. Pink saxifrage, small veronica and dwarf willows, which is several centimeters of height, grow in the cracks of rocks.
Different climate of Altai makes great opportunity for trekking, backpacking, pass hopping, climbing and mountaineering. This is the only region in the ex-USSR, where all kinds of outdoor sports of different category of complication are represented here. Altai is a mountainous area, that is why any types of routes concern to different kinds of outdoor sports: in the summer- trekking, backpacking, hiking, pass hopping, mountaineering and climbing, white water rafting and kayaking; in the winter - skiing and mountaineering. But there is a tendency nowadays to unite all (or at least a number of) kinds of outdoors. Trekking, pass hopping, hiking and skiing include overcoming different obstacles, passes and gorges. These obstacles are off the beaten track, brushwood, dog; river crossing, hiking in taiga, ascending a mountain (the beginning point is not more than 1000 meters). All these obstacles need special training to overcome.
The central part of Mountain Altai with Katun, North-Chuyskiy and South-Cuyskiy ridges are of great interest for those who like trekking, pass hopping, mountaineering and climbing. These ridges have alpine appearance: snow-capped summits, big steep slops with passes and gorges, mountain streams.
The highest Katun ridge is named after the river Katun. It has its sources in its south slops. The ridge expands from the West to the East, its height reaches 4506 meters.
The west part of the ridge, so-called Multinskiy, stretches for 50 kilometers. Three sides of it are surrounded by the Katun river and other streams, which flow into the Multinskiy lake.
Multinskiy ridge is about 3000 meters of height (the highest point is 3208 meters). It has many glaciers which feed numerous tributaries of the Katun river. They flow from the ridge to the south, west and north. The west part of Multinskiy ridge is easy to reach, it is not difficult to cross rivers and passes.
To reach central and west part of the ridge needs good equipment and special training. More than 50 passes are well-known nowadays. The main passes are 1B and 2A category of difficulty.
The west part of Katun ridge is famous for its picturesque Multinskiy, Osinovskiy, Hazinihskiy and Talmenje lakes. This region is suitable for backpacking, trekking and hiking of 1-3 category in summer, and till 4 category of complication in winter.
Beginning with Verhniy and Nizniy Kuragan the ridge raises and in 25 km it reaches its highest point (4506 meters). The biggest glaciers: Saposhnikova, Radzevicha, Brothers Tronovich, Berelskie are situated here. The ridge has 3 branches to the North. There are more than 170 glaciers concentrated in the central part of the ridge. They occupy the area of about 150 square kilometers. Numerous tributaries of the Katun and Berel rivers have its sources here. There are many beautiful waterfalls, the most famous of them are on the rivers Tegeek, Tekelu, Kurkure, B. Kollol, Kapchal. The biggest waterfalls reaches 40-60 meters of height.
Nowadays 25 passes are known in the main watershed, some of them being the most difficult to cross (3B category of difficulty). Inexperienced tourists can cross other passes which have 1A-1B and 3A category of difficulty.
River valleys of the central part of the ridge have good paths, therefore it is rather easy to approach passes. It makes easy to mountaineering and climbing any kinds of category of complication.
The third part of freezing is situated at the last length of road of the ridge. The max height of the ridge is about 3883 meters. There are more then 70 glaciers here with the area of 40 square kilometers. This part of the ridge have passes of 1B-3A category of difficulty. There are not so many paths and approaches to them are not very good. As a rule the central part of the ridge is not used as an independent tourists region.
Snow-line of the Katun ridge raises from the west to the east from 2500 to 2900 meters, in the north - from 2700, in the south- from 3100 meters. Glaciers descend till the height of 2000-2200 meters. Northern slops are more populated. Artificial fuel for hiking and even (in some cases) for backpasking and trekking is not needed. It is advisable only in the Belukha region, as trekkers have to spend night at the snowy place.
The most comfortable approaches to the Katun ridge are in the north part. The Tungur, Katanda, Multa villages are the traditional places of the beginning and the end of routes. These places have bus communication through Ust-Koksa with Gorno-Altaysk. Ust-Koksa has air communication with Gorno-Altaysk, Biysk and Barnaul (subject for pre-checking, though). A new road connects Ust-Koksa with Leninogorsk. It is possible to get there from Kazakhstan and from the Argut valley.
The North-Chuyskiy ridge is situated to the north of the Katun ridge, behind the Argut river. It stretches from north-west to south-east for 140 kilometers. Valleys of the Karagem and Chugan-Usy rivers are south and south-east boundaries of the region. Bish-Iirdy is the highest summit of the ridge. The main glaciers are also concentrated here. The average height of the ridge is about 3600 meters, several summits reach the height of 4000 meters (Maashi-bashi is 4173 meters, Actru is 4075 meters).
Passes of the ridge are different, but one thing is similar: north and north-west slops are steep. They have all category of difficulty, the most difficult passes to cross are snow-capped. The snow-line is at a height of 2900 meters in the north slops and 3100 in the south slops.
The orography of the ridge is complicated, its several parallel ridges with similar direction of west-east. Moutaineers name them as Chuyskiy, Shavlinskiy, Karagemskiy. The Cuyskiy ridge stretches between the Chuya and Shavly rivers for 60 kilometers. Its height increases from west to east, the highest point being 2925 meters. The paths cross many valleys of rivers and watershed which is swamped in some places.
The Shavlinskiy ridge stretches between valleys of the Shavly and Ungura rivers. Its height is about 2500 meters near Argut, and it increases to west. Forest grow only in the valleys of rivers. The most difficult passes are in west part of the ridge, they round the Shavlinsky mountain lakes.
The average height of the Karagemskiy ridge is about 3400 meters. It is also a watershed of the Ungura and Karagem rivers. The ridge is covered by little glaciers.
All the ridges come together not far from the Skazka (The Tale) and Krasavitza (The Beauty) summits which are situated near the sources of the Shavla river. The ridge is frozen at the upper reaches of the Aktru, Maashey, Shavla and Karagem.
The most beautiful summit called «Dome of three lakes» is situated in the east of the ridge. It has a big glacier.
The most comfortable way to get it is Chuysky road. Tourists start their hiking from the Beliy Bom, Chibit, Men, Kurae, Kysyl-Man villages. Helicopters (MI-8) fly from Gorno-Altaisk to the Aktaisk village (also subject to confirm).
The most popular trekking routes are in the North-Chuysk ridge, they begin trekking from this place and finish in the Chuysky-road. Routes including the North-Chuysky ridges or/and the region of the Belukha river and crossing of the river Argut are very popular nowadays. Such routes are difficult to pass therefore special training is needed here.
The south chain of Central Altai is limited in the east by the South-Chuysky ridge. It is separated from the east part of the Katun ridge by Argut, from the North-Chuysky ridge- by the valley of Karagem, from the south- by the valley of the Jazator river and from the East- by the river Chuya and its tributaries.
The main watershed ridge stretches from the West to the East for 120 kilometers. The rivers Oshty-Airy, Kara-Airy, Kalynagach and others have their sources here in the ridge. The rivers flow to the North into Chuya . The Ongulu, Bara, Mangot rivers with its tributories flow in the south slops of the ridge.
The central part of the ridge from the Kara-Airy to Elangash rivers is covered with ice. Its height reaches 3700 meters in some places. The highest summits are Iiktu (3936 meters) and Tymom (3960 meters). The main glaciers are Kara-Airy, Taldurinskiy, Sofiysky, Yadrincheva. There are more than 220 glaciers here, which are concentrated mainly in the north slops. The relief becomes more flat to the east part of the ridge.
The most passes have 1B and 2A, some of them have 2B and 3A category of difficulty. They are situated basically in the main ridge and in its north part.
The typical features of the ridge are firstly, the south slops are steeper than the north ones. Secondly, the south slops are less covered with ice than the north ones. Thirdly, the ridge is poor of wooden vegetation, it is concentrated only in the valleys of the Jazator, Karagem, Taldury and Chagan-Uzun rivers. At last, the climate of the region is dryer and more contrasting than in the Katun and North-Chuiskiy ridges.
The ridge is snow-capped at a height of 2900-3100 meters, in the south slops- by 100-150 meters higher.
The most comfortable way to get this region is from the Chuysky road. The beginning and the end places of trekking, backpacking and hiking may be the Kosh-Agach (it has air communication with Gorno-Altaisk), Muhor-Taphata, Chagan-Usun, Kyzyl-Many villages (special permits to frontier zone are needed).
The most popular trekking and pass hopping routes passes through the Sough-Chuysk and North-Chuysk ridges and sometimes through the South-Chuyskiy and Katun ridges.